Saturday, March 29, 2014

2014 Southern California Trip: Disneyland Day 1

When day 1 of our Disneyland time came around, I have to admit it was pretty hard for me not to get there bright and early in the morning. I paced Oscar's grandparents' house giddy as a school girl while watching the clock! Oscar had volunteered to stay at the hotel with Tyler that day so I could have some baby-free time with my nieces and nephew. If we'd gone to the park at opening, I would have been all alone for several hours while Oscar and Tyler would have had nowhere to hang out since hotels don't check in guests until at least noon.

Although my family wouldn't arrive from Vegas until about 4, I was still eager to get into the park, even if it meant being there alone. We left Burbank around 11, stopped for lunch, nursed Tyler, checked in early at our hotel, and then dropped me off at the front entrance.

I spent my 2 hours of alone time walking around the park having my pictures taken. We'd pre-paid for Disney photopass+, an all inclusive service that offers digital copies of any photo any Disney photographer takes of you. They also give you a gallery CD of pictures from all around the resort, which is why many of these pictures are so gorgeous (no I did not suddenly become an incredible photographer ;)). The photopass is perfect for someone like me since it saves me the trouble of taking my own pictures. As much as I love having pictures for viewing, blogging, and creating digital scrapbooks, I really hate doing the picture taking myself. I feel it robs me of fully enjoying the experience in the present if I'm overly focused on recording it for the future. This way I get the best of both worlds!

 Where the photographers are varies throughout the day, but typically there are several just outside the castle and in the main street circle in front of the Walt Disney and Mickey statue.

They tell you to pose in a variety of positions. I had fun goofing around and letting my giddiness out!
The other photographers I saw were all taking pictures at the various character meet and greets. Since I was alone and the lines were all about 30 minutes long, I decided to walk into Fantasyland to do the Sleeping Beauty Castle Walkthrough.

I had only learned about this a few weeks earlier while researching which attractions were doable with a baby. Though I'd been to Disney several other times, and the attraction's been available since 1957, I was not aware that you could enter the Sleeping Beauty Castle. For some reason I thought they used it as a storage area. But alas, the Sleeping Beauty tale unfolds in 3 dimensional displays as you stroll through winding staircases from one end of the castle to the other. It's definitely worth seeing once, and since I doubt anybody else in our group would have been interested in it, I'm glad I was able to do it during my time alone.

I continued looking for photographers near the Matterhorn, but since I couldn't find one, I opted to take the Disneyland train back to the front entrance.

If I've ever taken the train before, I obviously did not remember it. I'd always assumed the train was just a train, so I was surprised to see these Dinosaur scenes as we rode through Tomorrowland. I meant to take the rest of the train route another time to find out if there were any more animatronics to see, but I never got around to it.

I'd just gone into California Adventure when my mom called to say they'd all arrived at the hotel. One of the perks of being a Disney hotel guest is using the park entrance in Disney's Grand Californian hotel, which is right across the street from Disney's Paradise Pier. Oscar and I had attempted to take this entrance once on our honeymoon, but we were turned away since we didn't have a Disney hotel room key.
Since I also didn't have a key that day, I asked the attendant if she could make an exception for me, but it turns out I didn't even need one. After 2pm they don't ask for keys from those exiting, though you do still need one to enter. I wish we'd known that on our honeymoon! Our hotel was only 3 blocks away from the Grand Californian. It would have saved us about a mile of walking after being on our feet all day, and would have made us more willing to go back to our hotel for a quick break.

Mike's kids had only been told they were going to Vegas so that he could later surprise them with the Disneyland trip. I wanted to add to their fun, so I knocked on their door and yelled "surprise!" They hadn't seen us since August and didn't know we were coming, so I was expecting a big response. Unfortunately it was a bit halfhearted since they were pretty tired from the drive, but they got their energy back as we were walking over to the park, and by then they were excited to see me.

One really nice surprise for us was that mom and dad were able to add Oscar, Tyler, and I on as guests for no extra charge. We saved money by cancelling our next two nights at our hotel, and we got to enjoy the perks of being Disney hotel guests, including early entrance to the parks each day. They even printed a room key for Tyler. We still stayed at our separate hotel that night since we'd already paid for it, but we checked out early the next morning and brought our stuff over to Paradise Pier.

Oscar and Tyler came over to the hotel and Ty took a nap in the pack and play while the rest of us began our fun in California Adventure. The first ride we did was the new "Ariel's Undersea Adventures." The nice thing about this ride is it's a constant loader, like Buzz Lightyear and Haunted Mansion. The ride never has to stop to let people on and off, which makes the line move super fast. It never had more than a 5 minute wait even though we were there on busy days. The animatronics inside are very impressive, especially when you compare it to older rides like "Mr Toad's Wild Ride" where your cart merely passes by illustrated pop up boards.

Next we strolled into the Paradise Pier area where you can see our hotel just behind the rides, hence the name of the hotel. This part of the park closes earlier due to the World of Color show. There I went on the Golden Zephyr ride with Sophie and rode Jumpin' Jellyfish with all the kids.

When I was researching which rides I could take a baby on, Golden Zephyr was listed as having no height requirement. However, after finding out that lap riders aren't allowed, I would not have wanted to bring Tyler on it. I would have happily taken him strapped to me in the baby carrier, but I would have been terrified to sit him up in the seat next to me since he's so wiggly. He can roll himself over on the changing table even with the buckle on as tight as I can make it, and the only constraint on this ride is a loose lap belt. It would not have been safe since I'm sure he would have been trying to pull himself to stand and peering over the edge.

That's something that was missing in all the Disney research I did. Somebody needs to make a list of which rides you can bring an infant on and what the requirements are. The only information I found said you could bring an infant on any attraction without a height requirement, but I was unaware that different rides would have different policies. Some require the baby to sit up in his own seat, which obviously wouldn't work if you have a newborn, while others will let you hold a baby on your lap or have him in a baby carrier as long as he's front facing, while others are happy to let you have him in a sling or in whatever position you'd like. I'd list it all myself and will include any information I found out about the rides we did take him on, but Tyler was very demanding of his sleep on this trip, so I only got around to taking him on about half of the baby friendly rides available.

Oscar was planning on picking up Malia and family from the airport, but our small rental car would have been very uncomfortable to try and fit 2 of them in the back next to a bulky car seat. We figured it was better for Oscar to hand Tyler off to me at the Grand Californian entrance before he left.

Once I got Tyler, I ran with him in the jogging stroller to meet back up with everyone else at the Toy story ride. Ty was very hungry, but I wasn't willing to get out of line and miss the ride just to take him to the baby care area. Once again I did what I rarely do and fed him in line. I'm glad I brought loose shirts that trip! Normally he's done in about 10 minutes, but he doesn't eat as well when he's not lying comfortably on a boppy, so 20 minutes of standing and nursing my 22 pound baby was absolutely killing my arms. I pulled him off as we were getting close to the end of the line, and he was not happy about it. Fortunately, though, he calmed down as soon as we got him on the ride. He really enjoyed all the fun lights and noises while sitting on my lap. It was a bit difficult, though, to keep him balanced while pulling on the string to play the game. It was a lot easier to ride the next day when we used the baby carrier.

I came off the ride a little alarmed that I couldn't find my stroller. Apparently I'd been so excited to meet up with the family that I'd just parked Ty's stroller right outside the line entrance without realizing that wasn't the official stroller parking. I panicked a bit at first, but then I remembered reading that Disney employees will often move strollers to the nearest assigned stroller parking, which was exactly where I found it.

The line for California Screamin' wasn't very long, so I went on it with Mike and Shannon while mom and dad took the kids on the Merry-Go-Round. This is one of my favorite coasters anywhere since the line moves quickly, it has lots of drops and an upside down loop, it shoots you up the hill super fast at the very beginning, and it's very smooth for a roller coaster (though admittedly less than it was when I first went on it in 2006).

It was already past Tyler's bedtime by then, so he was getting pretty darn fussy. At one point it was so bad that I said "OK, I'm taking him back to the hotel," but mom was kind enough to offer to push him around in the stroller while we did Mater's Junkyard Jamboree (which I couldn't bring Tyler on). By the time we were done with the ride, he'd fallen asleep. I actually enjoyed the ride considerably more than I was expecting to. It's a similar feeling to other theme park rides where whoever's on the inside gets crushed as the ride spins, but since the tow trucks move both ways, there's equal opportunity for both people to be on the inside. I was a bit concerned I'd be super crushed when the kids wanted to ride with their parents and I ended up in a truck next to dad, but it wasn't nearly as intense of crushing as I was expecting. It was actually pretty smooth, and it was fun to change up being on both the inside and the outside.

After that we got in the stand by line for racers. During the day this line can be as long as two hours, but since we were there in the evening while most others were at World of Color, the line was only about 30 minutes.

This is an impressive ride, and not just due to the rush of the race. The truly impressive parts of this ride are the animatronics. Like Splash Mountain, you tour through the scenes of the movie first before the "thrill ride" part happens. The design of the cars is absolutely astounding! They don't look like animated cars. They look like real cars made of steel that just happen to have eyes and mouths. Disney does an amazing job of making you feel like you've just walked right into Cars Land. Compare it to an older ride with animatronics, like Splash Mountain, and it's that much more mind-blowing. Splash Mountain's animatronics were impressive for their time, and these certainly follow suit for ours.'

Emma and Sophie both cried after this ride, but I think it's because it was late and they'd never been on it before, so they were surprised by the race at the end. The next day when they went on it, they were determined not to cry, and they didn't. They enjoyed it more once they knew what was coming. The unexpected is a large part of what makes something scary (hence why people are afraid of the dark). It's for that very reason that I often close my eyes on roller coasters. I enjoy not knowing when the drop is coming because it's that much more thrilling. It makes absolutely no sense to me why someone who's scared of roller coasters would close their eyes on one. It just makes it that much worse since your brain can't prepare itself for the drop.

After Racers we went back to the hotel, met up with Lia and family, then fed Ty and put him to bed in the pack and play. At Disney hotels they provide a pack and play in every room, which was nice not to need to bring our own. Oscar had just left from dropping the Kawaguchis off since he didn't want to pay to park at the hotel when our hotel was only 3 blocks away (it was $15 a day to park at the hotel, but we later learned that nearby there's free parking at Downtown Disney for up to 2 hours). He picked up dinner for the two of us, then walked over and stayed with me while the rest of the family went out to dinner. Once they returned, we walked back to our hotel and got some sleep.